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SBC plans public Wi-Fi network

The telecommunications company is shopping for wireless networking equipment to create public hot spots.

SBC has recently taken steps toward building a public wireless local area network, the company said Monday.

The service is an attempt to fend off competition from the cable industry, say analysts, who note that SBC is the second major telephone company to use the popularity of Wi-Fi wireless networks to better compete against such rivals.

SBC spokesman Michael Coe said the broadband and telephone provider has begun shopping for the equipment needed to create

Nearly a dozen equipment makers--including Cisco Systems, Proxim and Symbol Technologies--are expected to respond to the request for proposals SBC made last week.

The telecom company recently appointed a vice president of Wi-Fi, Brooks McCorlce, who is exploring "the best way for SBC to deploy Wi-Fi," Coe said. SBC has already been selling Wi-Fi access points to subscribers of its SBC Yahoo DSL (digital subscriber line) service and to its corporate customers, the spokesman said.

SBC and Verizon Communications have been experimenting with Wi-Fi technology to attract subscribers with as many services as possible. The hope is that providing customers with bundles of services will keep them from leaving for rival services.

The bundling tactic could help stave off cable companies' recent efforts to gain share in the local phone-service industry, according to some analysts. Some cable companies have grabbed 20 percent to 30 percent market share for local phone service in some areas.

Coe would not give further information about SBC's Wi-Fi plans, other than to describe them as "aggressive."

DSL providers and cellular telephone service companies have also been adding hot spots into their major markets. For instance, Verizon Communications last week unveiled 150 of the 1,000 Wi-Fi hot spots it plans to open at pay phones throughout Manhattan. The hot spots are available for free to Verizon's broadband customers.